Monday, April 29, 2013

The Pecan Man by Cassie Dandridge Selleck

The Pecan Man is a work of Southern fiction whose first chapter was the First Place winner of the 2006 CNW/FFWA Florida State Writing Competition in the Unpublished Novel category. In the summer of 1976, recently widowed and childless, Ora Lee Beckworth hires a homeless old black man to mow her lawn. The neighborhood children call him the Pee-can Man; their mothers call them inside whenever he appears. When the police chief’s son is found stabbed to death near his camp, the man Ora knows as Eddie is arrested and charged with murder. Twenty-five years later, Ora sets out to tell the truth about the Pecan Man. In narrating her story, Ora discovers more truth about herself than she could ever have imagined. This novel has been described as To Kill a Mockingbird meets The Help.

My take: 4 looks
This was a sweet, sweet book. It was short, concise, engaging, and very well written. I loved everyone in it, even Dovey Kincaid.

The racial tension in a time that everyone in the south thinks it's over is evident, and properly portrayed. The naivetee of Ora as she encounters racism and discrimination against her friends is unsettling for me, a woman in the south who thinks that the lower states have overcome their prejudices. The contrast of Ora and Blanche handing the same situation with two very different approaches based on the color of their skin is sobering.

The familial relationships in the book are marvelously drawn, from Ora realizing she doesn't know Blanche's family at all, to the final revelation of who the "Pecan Man" really is. Ora throwing Dovey off of her porch recalled a very similar scene from The Help, but this is in no way a retelling of that story. It is its own novel, and is a good one.

The description of the booking being a cross between "The Help" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a correct one, and I hope this author writes many, many more.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Odd Hours by Dean Koontz

Strange times need strange heroes.

Odd Thomas lives always between two worlds. He can see the lingering dead and knows that even in chaos, there is order, purpose, and strange meaning that invites our understanding but often thwarts it.

Intuition has brought Odd Thomas to the quaint town of Magic Beach on the California coast. As he waits to learn why he has been drawn there, he finds work as a cook and assistant to a once-famous film actor who, at eighty has become an eccentric with as long a list of fears as he has stories about Hollywood’s golden days.

Odd is having dreams of a red tide, vague but worrisome. By day he senses a free-floating fear in the air of the town, as if unleashed by the crashing waves. But nothing prepares him for the hard truth of what he will discover as he comes face to face with a form of evil that will test him as never before…

My take: 3 looks
This is the fourth book in the Odd Thomas series, and was just as cleverly written as the other three. I have never read another Koontz series (or standalone), but I am going to add his books to my TBR simply because of the writing style he exhibits in this series.

Here are some of my favorite lines:
  • Words are plastic these days. Small loans made to desperate people at exorbitant rates are called payday advance. A cheesy hotel paired with a seedy casino is called a resort. Any assemblage of frenetic images, bad music, and incoherent plot is called a major motion picture.
  • Malevolence and paranoia cohabit in a twisted mind. Bad men trust no one because they know the treachery of which they themselves are capable.
  • Sometimes I am a mystery to myself.
  • Although weaponless, I left the house by the back door, with two chocolate-pumpkin cookies. It's a tough world out there, and a man has to armor himself against it however he can.
See? Both humorous and poignant statements. That is the hallmark, I am finding, of these Odd Thomas books, and one thing that makes them such a pleasure to read.

This one ended a little abruptly for me. Who was Annamaria? What became of the baby she carried? Why were the men after her? Will we see Birdie Hopkins again? Did anyone else miss Ozzie?

Instead of being frustrated with the lack of answers, I am propelled to the next in the series. Koontz has never let me down before and there is no reason to suspect he will begin now.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Archived by Victoria Schwab

Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often-violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn't just dangerous-it's a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da's death was hard enough, but now her little brother is gone too. Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.

In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines bet
ween past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable lost and hard-won redemption.

My take: 3.5 looks
In my F2F book club, members tell each week what they are reading in addition to the assigned book. We are all fast readers, so the selection each week that comes to the conversation is excellent. I read this one based on a fellow reader's recommendation, and was not disappointed!

I was afraid the book would get too complicated for me to enjoy. After all, the plot is dense with terms, periphery characters and lots of "dos" and don'ts". However, this was not the case. The author did a good job of moving the story along while sticking to a relatively narrow field of main players, consistent action and few plot twists. I found the story to be very engaging, and I liked the characters very much. The present narrative was supplemented with past memories to give a full picture of how the main character, Mackenzie, arrived at her role. This was a very effective tool and gave the story and characters depth.

I was pleasantly surprised that this is the first in a series, and plan to read the next one, "The Unbound".

Highly recommended.

Friday, April 12, 2013

...and all of the sudden, BAM! It's everwhere!

I have seen this book pop up a lot lately. It's on reading lists, displays at bookstores, and on blogs.

Here is the summary:
From bestselling author Meg Wolitzer a dazzling, panoramic novel about what becomes of early talent, and the roles that art, money, and even envy can play in close friendships. The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed.

In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge. The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence.

Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding.

The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken. Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.

Sounds interesting, but it makes me wonder ... why all the buzz? What sets this one apart? I would say it's advertising, product placement and promotion. For example, the New York Times Best Seller list reports book sales at stores specializing in selling books. That counts out WalMart, Sam's Club, and Costco, as well as other department stores which offer books. As another blogger points out, when it comes to pure sales in the short term, books that are well advertised and noticeable (i.e., placed in store windows or up front in separate book stands) have a much higher chance of landing on a bestseller list. Prominent book reviews (both good and bad) and the number of retailers involved in selling the book also determine its success.

The ultimate question is whether or not I will read it. Yes, probably. I am nothing if not a sucker for what's popular!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Reading Themes

I am a sucker for themes. When my kids were younger, I decorated for everything: New year, Valentine's, St. Patrick's Day, Cinco de Mayo, Mother's Day, Easter...everything. We even had themed parties. I remember I invited a group of girlfriends over one night, and everything they ate, drank, and wore started with the letter "P". It's a kind of sickness, I think.

I was looking through my eBook collection today and realized that I have a lot of books with the same theme in the titles, so I thought it would be fun to look at them, count them, and name some. Here goes:

Food: Examples are Cake (4), Pie (4), Breakfast (2), Snack, Chocolate (7), Diner (4) . The best title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Zombies: I own 8 books with the word "zombie" in the title. What does that say about me? The best title: "You Might be a Zombie and Other Bad News"

Animals: examples are Dog (17), Cat (19), Bird (6), Tiger (4), Snake (2). The best title: The Penguin Who Knew Too Much.

Time: Time (36), Year (16), Day (20), Minute (3). The best title: The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted.

Seasons: Winter (8), Summer (18), Autumn (3), Spring (7), Season (9), Cold (11), Rain (11), Wind (10). The best title: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Colors: yellow (1), Blue (24), Red (27), White (12), Black (20), Pink (2), green (9). The best title: Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison

And there you have it: a quick look at the themes on my bookshelf. I left some out, like Zoo, Crazy, Lie, etc. The majority of my book themes, however, I discovered during this exercise is ... DEAD (62). I show only 40 Love, 34 Life, and 16 Live. Go figure.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
A gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore. With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the twenty-first century, evoking both the fairy-tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that’s rare to the world of literary fiction. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave, a modern-day cabinet of wonders ready to give a jolt of energy to every curious reader, no matter the time of day.

My take: 5 looks
I don't know why, but I loved this book. There were many things wrong with it, and lots of unanswered questions, but I love books about books, and I think that's why this one captivated me. Clay was a compelling protagonist, doing things that I would have done. Mr. Penumbra was an intriguing main character, with just enough idiosyncrasy to be endearing instead of weird. Ashley, Matt, Neel, and Kat are all excellent supporting characters in this drama. The story was fun, fast-paced and oh so satisfying in the end. I would LOVE a sequel.

Highly recommended.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Prophet by Amanda Stevens

The Prophet (Graveyard Queen, #3)Summary:
Older than time. Darker than night. Stronger than death.

My name is Amelia Gray.

I am the Graveyard Queen, a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. My father passed down four rules to keep me safe and I've broken every last one. A door has opened and evil wants me back.

In order to protect myself, I've vowed to return to those rules. But the ghost of a murdered cop needs my help to find his killer. The clues lead me to the dark side of Charleston—where witchcraft, root doctors and black magic still flourish—and back to John Devlin, a haunted police detective I should only love from afar.

Now I'm faced with a terrible choice: follow the rules or follow my heart.

My take: 3 looks
Third in The Graveyard Queen series, this tied up some loose ends, but left many more. I understand that there are two more coming in this series, but I may be bored with it by the time it comes out.

The characters are becoming more familiar over the course of the books, but continue to have the same irritating qualities and don't seem to be growing, at least for me. Amelia is still naive and overly trusting, and continues to follow a path that she has been warned against her entire life. She finally finds out about her birth and her family, and that was gratifying, but there is a chasm between her mother and father than I neither understand or sympathize with.

The men in her life continue to be on the edge of trouble. She can't forget the man from the last book, while being hopelessly in love with the man from this book (as well as the first). Of course, they are both head over heals with her because she is blond and has a well-toned body from the physical activity required in her job. I get tired of hearing that. Like she has to make an excuse for her trim and toned body.

I continue to love the dog that Amelia adopted, which she suspects was a "bait" dog in an dog-fighting ring. He is very protective and intuitive, and I like the relationship they have with one another.

Overall, it was an entertaining read, if not completely satisfying. I may try the next one, and I recommend this one, if you have read the other two.